Okay, we’re all aware that life doesn’t always go to plan. We sit tight and hope that the bad stuff won’t happen to us – but what if it does? Imagine something happening in your family, and finding that the whole problem is made so much worse by your fraught financial past? I strongly believe money doesn’t buy happiness, and it certainly doesn’t buy you protection from the bad times. What it can do is offer you a lifeline when the going gets tough, and mean a difficult situation isn’t made more difficult by money worries.

I caught up with Dawn Lewis – a small business owner with a seriously savvy approach to money. She lives by her Dad’s analogy that the money you need will always turn up somewhere, and has managed to pull her family out of financial difficulty on a single income – twice!

She got so good at side-hustling her way to safety, it became a full-time business. Dawn also runs workshops on smart grocery shopping and meal planning!

This is Dawn’s story:

The Broke Generation: Hi Dawn! Thanks so much for agreeing to chat with me about the tough old subject of money. I’m so keen to hear your stories! How would you describe your approach to finance?

Dawn: In one word, logical!  I am a firm believer in saving for a rainy day (because when it rains, it really does pour), and living within your means. Know where your money is going, and get up close and personal with the numbers, especially in the first few years of earning an income.

TBG: That’s a great tip, and one thing I think the younger generation really isn’t doing. It seems common to spend a few years taking our wage for granted, and getting serious too late. So, on a scale of 1-10 where 1 is a big spender and 10 is a big saver, where would you say you are today?

D: Today I would put myself around a 5, as we are living in a more financially demanding phase of life.

TBG: Now think of yourself when you were 21. Where on that scale were you then?

D: Oh wow, well at 21 I would have been an 8. I was not your typical 21 year old. Like you say – everyone was spending at that age. I had a savings account, I got cross when petrol prices went up, and I was keeping a record of every cent I spent so I knew where my money went.

TBG: Wow! That sure is unusual! I bet it’s set you up much better than my 21 year old life did, though! Have you had to change your attitude to spending throughout your life?

D: Absolutely yes!  We go through so many different phases of life, and I went from a financially independent young woman to a married woman, paying rent, budgeting for two and saving for a house deposit in my mid 20’s.  In my late 20s I became a stay-at-home mum, which meant budgeting a family of 4 on a single wage by the time I was 30. Through my 30’s, I was super careful with money, we went without a lot of luxuries and watched every cent as I worked every side hustle I could find. Coming into my 40’s, my side hustle turned into a business. I found that was right for us – it was easier to manage than a job. By then we’d discovered our 2 girls were on the autism spectrum – with a few learning disabilities and anxiety thrown in to spice up the deal. As a result I simply couldn’t work outside the home, but my previous frugality had helped us find a more comfortable space financially  As the kids are getting older now and leaving their teenage years behind, we have shifted our focus to spending our money to set them up to live independently – that means some big scary purchases are being made at the moment! But being older and wiser, it’s not as scary as it would have been to spend this kind of money when we were younger.

TBG: That’s really kind of you to share your story with us, Dawn. It sounds like you’ve been through a lot – but as you say, having that strong mentality with money made a bad situation a little bit easier. Is money something you worry about regularly?

D: Not really. I’m a big manifester – which I didn’t learn from some modern guru, I actually learned it from my Dad! We didn’t have much money when I was a kid, but my parents made sure we had everything we needed. My Dad had this saying, “it’ll turn up”. He said it whenever we needed money we didn’t have. Like if the car broke down and there was no money to fix it, Dad would just smile and say “it’ll turn up”.

He really believed that it would, and somehow it always did. When you need something, you have an incredible ability to make it happen. I just sort of adopted that as a natural part of my life. There are times when we fall out of the comfort zone, but I just know I can get us back to where we need to be.

TBG: Sounds like your Dad was very wise! I like the idea of manifesting when it comes to money. So I’d assume you’d say you feel you have a good sense of control over your spending?

D: Yes. I spend very consciously, and while I don’t have a written budget, I instinctively know what we can afford and what we can’t.

TBG: Oh yes, knowing your numbers is key. Then it sort of becomes a habit, doesn’t it. Can you tell me about a time in your life when you have been in a great position financially.

D: Fun fact about me: I was fortunate enough to be selected as a game show contestant – twice! Both of those times I won big on the cash and prizes. I won a car, at least 7 holidays and tons of things that I sold to boost the bank account. I did it for fun, but it was profitable as well.

TBG: Oh my gosh, amazing! That’s such a cool story! How about a time in your life when you have been in a bad position financially.

D: I’d say we’ve only been in a really bad position financially twice. Once was when my mother-in-law passed away unexpectedly. We found ourselves with $75 in the bank – which wasn’t even enough for a week’s worth of nappies for 2 very little kids. I was able to bring us back from that within 6 months on a single wage.  The other was when my husband lost his job and was out of work for 3-4 months. We had zero income and no Centrelink help for the first 2 months. It was hard, but like Dad would’ve said – it turned up!

TBG: That must have been tough. How did you approach the task of getting your family back on track? I think some people get to a point of despair and really don’t know where to start.

D: Both times I took every side hustle I could find that worked around the kids. I called long-term service providers and asked for a better deal on bills, and I cut all unnecessary spending. I watched every dollar like a hawk, and had us back to my financial comfort zone within 6-8 months. The second time I managed to feed our family on $50 per week, and we actually ate really well when I made everything from scratch.

TBG: That’s really interesting that you mention cutting bills. There can sometimes be a misconception that it’s simply not worth the hassle to save a few dollars, but it can definitely make a difference. You and those side hustles again! Can you tell us what types of side projects have you had to make extra money?

D: I’ve been a side hustler since I was a teenager. I’ve done ironing, washed wedding cars at 6am, made clothes for my classmates, and had a number of handmade businesses. I’ve made custom wedding accessories, essential oil purses, handmade dolls, hand-painted ceramics, kids’ clothes. I taught craft classes for next to nothing for many years, which was a great investment in the experience I needed to reach my ultimate dream job.

TBG: That’s really great, Dawn. Well done you! It really is a case of swallowing your pride and doing whatever you need to do. Okay, so what advice would you give young people trying to get on the property ladder in today’s market?

D: Know your money, and by that I mean really know where it goes. Every cent you spend on takeaway, movies, magazines, overpriced phone plans – that’s all money you could be saving and investing to get into the property market. It is worth going without some luxuries now so you can reach those bigger goals. It’s also worth looking into buying a fixer-upper as your first home so that you don’t find yourself with an un-payable mortgage if interest rates rise. Honestly, you don’t need your dream home as your first home. It’s ok to settle, and slowly make upgrades to the house so that you can sell it for a substantial profit.  Follow the real estate websites, keep an eye on the rise and fall of house prices. Consider living further away and commuting in. Time on the bus or train is never wasted, as you can read and learn, do a small portable hand-craft, catch up on correspondence or build your side hustle in that time.

TBG: Using your commute time wisely is such a good idea. I’ve actually always wished there could be gyms on trains! I find them so boring I’d be compelled to workout! Okay, you’re clearly a total pro – do you have any amazing budgeting or planning tips for us?!

D: Oh I have loads!

  • When renewal notices come in, don’t just pay them. Whether it’s green slip, health insurance, home insurance – whatever. Shop around for a better deal every 12 months. Tell your current provider you want a better deal, and often they will give it to you.

  • Learn to cook from scratch. It will save you an enormous amount of money over buying takeaway and eating out, or using convenience versions of more basic foods.

  • Know exactly where your money is going.  Do a little experiment for a week (or for a month if you’re really hard-core) and write down EVERYTHING you buy and what it costs. It’s not worth cheating on this exercise (and trust me, you’ll be tempted), because you’re only cheating yourself out of knowledge. At the end of the week or month, note the categories in which you are spending. Set new spend goals, and record again.

  • Meal plan and shop with a list. It’s a game changer as well as a money saver!

TBG: Oh my god you’re so right. I’m a sucker for those microwave rice packets because I’m lazy. But they’re about $2.50 for one serve! I’ve switched to boiling regular rice and it’s so much cheaper! Okay, last question! If you could give your 21 year old self a piece of financial advice, what would that be?

D: Save more, and save earlier. My aunt and uncle sold their house when I was younger and I knew it was a great investment – I just wasn’t financially prepared in time. Of course, it’s worth over a million dollars now. I wish I could go back and tell myself to save earlier so I could’ve bought it. I regret not being prepared.

Dawn, thank you so much for being a part of The Broke Generation. You’re living proof that getting financially savvy early on can set you up for life’s challenges.

Dawn Lewis is a designer, vlogger, craft teacher and former television host. She was a speaker at the Artful Business Conference in 2017, including a panel on multiple income streams. Dawn not only has a creative business, but also thinks creatively about budgeting and marketing, with particular emphasis on getting more bang for your buck. Subscribe to her YouTube channel here.